Yoga Teachers are Great when they..
We've all been there - in a yoga class with a teacher that gets right up your nose, whether you're inhaling or exhaling...your nostrils are flaring, your mind is full of the most un-yogic thoughts, I mean really!!! If its a cover teacher, maybe you just won't like any teacher apart from your regular 'guru'. Give the teacher a chance, it may just be different so don't just roll up your yoga mat and flounce out, do your yoga...that means observe your thoughts carefully - why are you getting all stirred up? what are your thoughts telling you about you, your practice, change and expectations? What can you learn from this experience?
If you're not sure if its just you having a downer on everyone day, or it really is the teacher, here are some things to help you spot a great yoga teacher!
1. YOGA TEACHERS are great when they give you the class their full attention and if they're not, or they just can't see you, ask them to come and have a check what you're doing if you're not sure. Mostly, good teachers demonstrate poses before you do them and if its a sequence, they may do one or two rounds with you, but some teachers prefer not to demonstrate at all - why? So you don't have a picture of what you think the pose has to be like and experience the subtlety of the pose, not just the shape.
Note to teachers: If you're having a difficult day, do a practice before the class, not during. When your students are practicing, the main thing is observe them, check they have understood the instruction, offer alternatives to those who are struggling, stop a student who is heading for an injury, and modify poses with yoga props if you have them.
2. YOGA TEACHERS are great when they Allow you to find your edge and don't push you too far. Is your teacher showing off their advanced poses and letting their ego shine out to fill the classroom? If the teacher is preoccupied with people who are 'performing' the poses perfectly and causing everyone to force their bodies, it will probably cause students to be ultra competitive and end up with injuries too, especially if the teacher is adjusting your poses aggressively. Although you may want to challenge yourself and progress physically, its not worth injuring yourself. After all, who are you doing this practice for?
Note to teachers: keep showing off for your mum, for parties, and at bootcamp... but not in a yoga class, especially one you're teaching. Check your students breathing - if they're huffing and puffing, the body is creating more tension, not more freedom!
3. YOGA TEACHERS are great when they leave space between instructions - so much to take in, breathe in, left arm, right leg, twisting, bending, sometimes there's so much asana instruction, you just need them to shut up for a minute so you can concentrate. And sometimes its not even yoga-related - you haven't come to hear all about them, their mother, parking fine, or love life for that matter...well not during the class anyway!
Note to teachers: Just remember not to have too much coffee before class and if you have, or you're just nervous and saying everything you know...make sure you stop for a minute here or there! Less is more and students need time and space to experience the practice. You do not know what each student is dealing with in their lives so don't tell them what they should be feeling, hold the space for them to have some quiet time away from everyday troubles.
4. YOGA TEACHERS are great when the class is relaxed, fun and on your wavelength. If the teacher has a holier than thou attitude, show off their sanskrit, detailed anatomy and have an answer for everything, and take themselves too seriously, it can be boring and irritating. Isn't yoga supposed to be for everyone, normal people? What if you're overweight, eat meat and don't do 2hour yoga practice every morning at dawn. If you get the feeling you are being judged by the teacher and made to feel as if you shouldn't be there, observe your thoughts, learn from those feelings, and if it doesn't feel right, don't come back.
Note to teachers: Remember you're not teaching to impress, so be inclusive, non-judgemental, and above all, be yourself. If you are feeling bad vibes from the students, a bit of laughter and fun make your students relax and let go. Of course, you want to get across serious points but if things are getting a bit dry, introduce a little light relief; that doesn't mean a stand-up comedy routine or throwing a stink bomb in the corner of the room during savasana to see who moves first. Pair work is always a good way to melt a frosty atmosphere. A class should be uplifting and all about joy!
5. YOGA TEACHERS are great when they speak the truth. It is important to trust the teacher you are with. If the teacher keeps telling you to slow down and notice what's happening now, to be present, to let go of the past and the future, and then, during savasana relaxation at the end, they quietly take a peek at their iphone, change clothes and pack their bags thinking you won't notice with the lights turned down and your eye pillows on!
Note to teachers: They will know and they won't forget it either! You're asking them to be present...so you need to lead by example, stay and hold the energy until the class is completed. Give students a chance to give feedback or ask questions. Remember, they will believe what you tell them so be careful what you say, and how you behave.
If you have come across any particularly wonderful or extremely irritating yoga teachers, let us know - we'd love to hear your stories.
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Judy Hirsh is a BWY teacher, and senior Yoga Alliance yoga teacher, and of course a lifelong yoga student. She believes yoga is for everyone and runs classes and workshops in north London, and winter sun yoga holidays in India. You can contact her at Yogaunited 020 8449 3556.